A group of Yale students, poking around in the jungles of Ecuador, has unearthed a type of fungus that digests otherwise-unkillable plastics.
The microscopic Amazonian fungus feeds on polyurethane, which is a particularly tenacious landfill-clogger even as plastics go. It can take up to centuries to decompose.
The common plastic is used for everything from garden hoses to shoes and truck seats. Once it gets into the trash stream, it persists for generations. Anyone alive today is assured that their old garden hoses and other polyurethane trash will still be here to greet his or her great, great grandchildren. Unless something eats it.
The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and — even more surprising — do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.
Moral of story: Don’t destroy the rainforest, it might be willing to clean up your trash for you.